With the French beachhead established at present day Ocean Springs in April 1699, by French Canadian Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville (1661-1706), King Louis XIV of France had the physical presence to defend the Louisiana claim of Rene’ Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle (1643-1687). In 1682, La Salle exploring from eastern Canada had discovered the Gulf outlet of the Mississippi River and claimed it and all the vast territory it drained for France. He named the land “Louisiana” in honor of his King. After reconnoitering the northern Gulf Coast from Florida to the deltaic mouth of the Mississippi River, and inland as far as present day New Orleans, Louisiana, d’Iberville built Fort Maurepas on a peninsula on the east shore of the Bay of Biloxi. The French operations were conducted from the deepwater anchorage at Ship Island. The French adventurers had made contact with the local Amerinds who were established on the Pascagoula River. These tribes were called Bylocchy, Pascoboula, and Moctoby. The name Bylocchy or Biloxy became synonymous with the French settlement at Fort Maurepas, and in later times became spelled Biloxi.
In early 1702, the French made a decision to relocate their small colony from Ocean Springs to the Mobile Bay area. The first city of Mobile was established by d’Iberville in 1702, at Twenty-Seven-Mile Bluff on the Mobile River near the confluence of the Tensaw and Middle Rivers. After the harbor at Dauphin Island was obliterated by a hurricane in 1717, the French moved the capital of Louisiana back to the site of Fort Maurepas on Biloxi Bay in 1719. This settlement was removed to present day Biloxi in 1720, as this site, which was near the present day Biloxi Lighthouse, afforded easier access from Ship Island. It was called Nouveau Biloxy (New Biloxi), and the original settlement at Ocean Springs became known as Vieux Biloxy or Old Biloxi. Colonists of John Law’s Mississippi Company were landed at Ship Island and brought to New Biloxi where they were transported to various concessions in French Louisiana. New Biloxi was essentially abandoned after the capital of Louisiana was moved to New Orleans in 1722.
The historical record of Ocean Springs during the next one hundred years is rather sparse. When Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville (1680-1768) left Fort Maurepas for Dauphin Island in January 1702, he left some men at Fort Maurepas. It is probable that some French and French Canadians remained in the area after Old Biloxi was abandoned in 1720. New Biloxi met the same fate circa 1728.
British West Florida
After France lost its North American colonies to England as a result of the Seven Years War (1756-1763), Ocean Springs became part of British West Florida, whose capitol was at Pensacola. English surveyor, George Gauld, made a map of the Mississippi coast in 1768. It depicts the homestead of a Madame Bodron (probably Baudreau) living at “Old Biloxi” at this time. Spain declared war on England in 1779. Spanish-American forces under Galvez and Pollock defeated the British at Mobile and Pensacola liberating the area in 1781. The Treaty of Paris in 1783, gave British West Florida to Spain. Spain held the area as Spanish West Florida until the Republic of West Florida was declared in 1810.
During the Spanish period, there are anecdotal stories concerning a Spanish Camp or garrison, which was situated on the Fort Point Peninsula, the locale of Fort Maurepas and later Old Biloxi. These reports are presently not substantiated, but may have a connection with the “Spanish Fort” or de la Pointe-Krebs House at Pascagoula. The American State Papers indicate that Littlepage Robertson received permission from the Spanish Governor of Mobile to settle at Ocean Springs in 1782. This is corroborated by the affidavits of Pierre Carco and Susan Fayard recorded at the district of Jackson Courthouse in August 1820. They said that Robertson settled on the northeast side of the Bay of Biloxi adjoining the “Old Fort”. He was situated here about two years after the capture and occupation of Mobile by the Spaniards. Robertson lived here and cultivated the land until he raised his children to manhood. Woodson Wren later claimed title to the Robertson land, which was west of Martin Avenue and included the Fort Point Peninsula (Section 24 and Section 25, T7S-R9W).
Circa 1805, Louis Auguste LaFontaine purchased two hundred eighty arpents on the Bay of Biloxi from Julian Azevedo, probably a Spaniard. This tract is in the heart of old Ocean Springs. It is bounded on the south by the Bay of Biloxi, west by Martin Avenue, north by Government projected west to Martin, and east by General Pershing from Government south through the Inner Harbor. LaFontaine and his wife, Catherine Bourgeois, were the parents of several children, mostly daughters. These daughters would later married into the local families of the area Ladner, LaFauce (LaForce), Ryan, and Westbrook.
Americans and Immigrants
The area came under the domain of the United States in 1811, and Mississippi was admitted into the Union in 1817. This brought more “Americans” to the general area, and families such as, Bradford, Davis, Alsbury, Kendall, Bowen, Lynch, Porter, and Alley became a part of the history Ocean Springs. The Ocean Springs area also became an enclave for foreign immigrants, primarily seamen and laborers. Men such as Joseph Bellande, Stanislaus Beaugez, and Augustus Cash came from France. Frank Coyle, John Rodrigues, Pablo Cox, Joseph Basque, and the Catchot brothers immigrated from Spain. Henry Colligan, John Ames, Martin Soden, Edward O’Keefe, and John Egan found their way here from Ireland during the Great Potato Famine. Antonio Franco came from Portugal. Slowly, a small village developed on the eastern shore of the Bay of Biloxi, which was referred to as Old Biloxi or East Biloxi. People in the area subsisted from harvesting seafood, farming, burning charcoal, lumbering, and naval stores.
Early Industry and Tourism
Before 1850, a schooner trade in charcoal and lumber developed with New Orleans, which necessitated trading posts and saw mills on Fort Bayou. A brickyard was located at the foot of Jackson Avenue by the Kendalls from Kentucky. By 1850, the potential of the mineral springs on Fort Bayou was accessed by Phillip P. Bowen and George Lynch, and in 1853, Dr. William G. Austin of New Orleans had erected the Ocean Springs Hotel on Jackson Avenue. In 1854, the small town took its name, Ocean Springs, from the large hotel. It had been called Lynchburg Springs briefly when the first post office was established in 1853. Pilgrims seeking hydrotherapy for their physical ailments from the mineral springs on Fort Bayou created a need for hostels and housing. Commercial activity was initially centered about lower Jackson Avenue where the steam packets of the Morgan steamboat line landed frequently transporting passengers and mail from Milneburg on Lake Ponchartrain. Here entrepreneurs built and operated the Seashore House, Morris House, and Egan House. Later the O’ Keefe Boarding House, Artesian House, and Egan Cottage would develop in the same area.
Religion has always been important to the people of Ocean Springs. Its commencement here can be traced from that day in April 1699, when Father Bordenave was assigned by d’Iberville to remain with the French colonists at Fort Maurepas. After the abandonment of New Biloxi in the 1720s, the Roman Catholics of the Mississippi coast were without priests. Their spiritual needs were attended to by visiting missionaries from the Dioceses at Mobile and New Orleans. When the cathedral parish of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was established at Biloxi in 1843, a new period began in the care of Gulf Coast Catholics. Pascagoula, Ocean Springs, Handsboro, and Mississippi City were a part of the Biloxi parish. A Catholic church was not built in the small village of Ocean Springs until Bishop Elder of the Diocese of Natchez determined that the population could support it.
In 1859, after buying a lot from Joseph Bellande on the northwest corner of present day Porter and Dewey Avenues, Bishop Elder had a simple church erected. It was dedicated to St. Alphonsus. Father Georget of Biloxi ministered to the people of St. Alphonsus as a visiting priest. The parish moved to its present location on Jackson Avenue north of Calhoun when a new church was dedicated there in February 1874. The Catholic school opened in October 1887, under the direction of the Marianite Sisters of the Holy Cross.
The present day sanctuary and rectory were erected in 1961, when Father Francis Deignan served the people of St. Alphonsus. Ocean Springs got a new Catholic parish in September 1975, when the St. Elizabeth Seton Parish was organized for the Catholics in the eastern area of the city. The Reverend Noel Fannon, a native of Ireland, was the first pastor and remained with his parish through the building of the new sanctuary on Riley Road in 1988.
The First Baptist Church of Ocean Springs was organized in 1832, by Elder George Davis. Located on Davis Bayou, the church was called the Tidewater Baptist Church. Because of the transitory nature of the settlers, the church disbanded circa 1840. In 1847, the Baptists in the area were strongly reunited by Elder Philip P. Bowen. In 1874, the Tidewater Baptist Church became known as the Ocean Springs Baptist Church. It moved to a small rental house near the L&N depot in 1876.
A sanctuary was built on the northwest corner of Desoto and Church Street in 1878. The Baptists of the community worshiped here until the structure was severely damaged in the hurricane of September 1906. In the spring of 1909, Burr & Bradford erected a new church on land donated by George W. Davis (1842-1914), a descendant of the Davis family of the Tidewater Baptist Church on Davis Bayou. The structure was situated on the northwest corner of Porter and Bellande. The church called its first full-time minister, the Reverend John E. Barnes, in 1932. Sanborn insurance maps indicate that the Porter Avenue edifice was remodeled and enlarged before 1935. A post-1935 renovation occurred resulting in the present structure, which is used for storage.
In 1958, the heirs of E.W. Illing (1980-1947) sold their property on the northeast corner of Washington Avenue and Porter to the First Baptist Church of Ocean Springs. This conveyance terminated the long history of the cinema entrepreneurship of the Illing family at this location. The Baptist under the leader ship of the Reverend Paul D. Aultman erected a new sanctuary here. It was built to accommodate approximately twelve hundred persons. The new church was dedicated on May 11, 1969.
The Methodist Church at Ocean Springs was organized in 1853, by the Reverend James Sampey. It wasn’t until 1870 that a church building was erected on the north side of Porter near Washington. Elizabeth M. Stuart (1840-1925) who was a strong financial supporter of the Methodists’ efforts here became the first registered member when the new building was dedicated in 1872. In April 1900, the Methodist Church was demolished and the materials sold to druggist, Herman Nill (1863-1904). The salvaged lumber was used by the Vahle family to erect a hotel, the Vahle House, on the northwest corner of Washington and Calhoun.
In 1901, a new sanctuary was constructed on the southeast corner of Porter and Rayburn on a lot donated by Bishop Keener. After the death of Mrs. Stuart in January 1925, a relative, W.C. Howcott of New Orleans, donated money for a memorial to the Stuarts and Bishop Keener. Three large stained glass windows were added to the church in their honor. By 1950, the Ocean Springs Methodist church had become a station church. The Reverend William L. Elkin was the first full time pastor. The next decade saw a growing congregation and the need for a larger sanctuary.
In 1962, a modern brick structure was built at the same location as the 1901 church. The Stuart-Keener memorial windows were integrated into the new church. Today, St. Paul United Methodist Church has over one thousand members and may have outgrown its present location. A committee is investigating the purchase of land in the eastern part of town for a new complex of church buildings.
In July 1886, an organizational meeting of Presbyterians was held by eight Ocean Springs families in the Washington Avenue vacation home of Louisa Burling Bartlett (1832-1889). Mrs. Bartlett and her husband, William A. Bartlett (1816-1882), the proprietor of the Home Insurance Company, resided at New Orleans. Their son-in-law was George Washington Cable (1844-1925), who gained national prestige as a writer of Creole life and social reform. Cable’s wife, Louis S. Bartlett, owned the Bartlett Cottage on Washington from 1876 until 1890. The local Presbyterians had been meeting on Sunday afternoons at the Baptist Church, and it was decided by the small congregation at the July 1886, meeting that they should have their own church building. As a result of this meeting, a committee was organized which saw a church erected on Ocean Avenue and dedicated in October 1886. The church lot was donated by Mary Ann Wing of New Orleans who also maintained a vacation residence at Ocean Springs.
The First Presbyterian Church has grown slowly through the years. The 19th Century church was given a new belfry and steeple in 1956, by Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Walker. After nearly a century, the Presbyterians led by Reverend Andy Wells built a large sanctuary just east of the old church. It was dedicated on August 20, 1995.
The early history of the Episcopal Church at Ocean Springs has been lost, but it is known that in June 1865, an organization of Episcopalians was formed. The first records of the church indicate that the “Fortnightly Guild” met in June 1891, at the home of Dr. Tebo. It was decided at this gathering to accept the offer of the Baptist congregation to use their church building on Desoto Avenue.
The St. John’s Episcopal Church building was built in 1891, from plans drawn by Reverend Nelson Ayers from illustrations in the “Churchman”. The lot was donated by W.B. Schmidt, a wealthy merchant from New Orleans. The building committee was composed of Mrs. G.T. Helmuth, Mrs. F.V. Garrard, Mrs. Stansbury, and Dr. Tebo. It is very likely that Louis H. Sullivan, the renown Chicago architect, assisted in the design of the church. In 1903, George and Adele Arndt gave the church bell in memory of their young daughter, Elise Arndt. The parish house was built in 1948. St. John’s was a mission church served by rectors of the congregations at Pascagoula or Biloxi.
In 1955, the Episcopal congregants of Ocean Springs got a full-time priest, the Reverend Howard B. Kishpaugh. The old church building received major renovations in 1995-1996. It was rewired, repainted, and a new copper shingle roof installed.
The organized Lutheran religion at Ocean Springs is relatively new. Services commenced in September 1963, and the congregation was officially organized as Christus Victor Lutheran Church on February 23, 1964. It is part of the Southeastern Synod of the Lutheran Church in America. The Reverend Richard Dahlke was the first pastor. Parishioners met in a building at 703 Washington Avenue until a church was built at 2755 Bienville Boulevard in 1967. The land was purchased in 1964, from the Fort Bayou Development Corporation. On August 6, 1967, the first services were held in the new church with the Reverend B.F. Rutrough in attendance.
The black Protestants of Ocean Springs have been represented by the Baptist and Methodist faiths since the late 19th Century. Today, the Macedonia Baptist Church located on Weed Street and the St. James Methodist Church on Government Street minister to the spiritual needs of the Black community.
The Civil War decimated the tourist industry and local economy at Ocean Springs. Many of the local men joined the Live Oak Rifles, Company A, 3rd Mississippi Regiment which had been formed in west Jackson County in the spring of 1861. Some families moved north of the coast to farm. Those who stayed subsisted on seafood. In a letter, which survives from the period, a person living here in 1864, wrote: We are well and get along pretty smoothly. Bread stuffs are high, corn $12 to $14 per bushel, but then contra, we have fish and oysters for the trouble of catching and fruit in abundance. Chickens and eggs we raise and if hard pressed go out and shoot a rabbit.
In 1862, the Union Navy sent a detachment of sailors and marines from the USS Hartford to Ocean Springs. They went to the former U.S. Post Office on Jackson Avenue and confiscated the letter balance from John Egan’s post office as well as New Orleans newspapers and dilapidated guns, rifles, and muskets.
In November 1870, the railroad line from Mobile to New Orleans was completed and tourists returned to utilize the spas at Ocean Springs. The central business district shifted to Washington Avenue near the L&N depot. In time several hotels and tourist homes, the Van Cleave Hotel, Illing House, Shanahan House, Vahle House, Eglin House, Bayou Inn, and Pines Hotel developed on Washington Avenue, now the main street of Ocean Springs.
The railroad became an integral part of the economy of Ocean Springs as many of the laborers, both black and white, were employed by the Bridge and Building Department of the New Orleans-Mobile Division of the L&N. Antonio J. Catchot (1864-1954) headed this department for thirty-six years. He also served as mayor of Ocean Springs from 1917 until 1933, and was fire chief for nearly sixty years.
In addition large estates were developed on the Fort Point peninsula, front beach, and east beach by affluent families from New Orleans and the Chicago area. The mild climate, pace of life, excellent fishing and hunting, and ambiance of the general area attracted many. Escape from the summer yellow fever epidemics at New Orleans and the relatively cool sea breeze off the Bay of Biloxi were other reasons to locate here, at least temporarily, during the 19th Century.
The railroad also made it possible for the seafood industry to develop. As early as 1872, Peter A. Pons was shipping Ocean Springs oysters to New Orleans and Mobile. The seafood industry at Ocean Springs was for the most part a small family oriented business with the products shipped via rail to markets in the East and Midwest.
From the late 1850s until the first canning plant, The Ocean Springs Packing Company, was erected near the L&N railroad bridge in 1914, seafood was processed in wood and tin sheds called “fish or oyster houses”. Here, oysters were shucked, fish cleaned, and crabs and shrimp sorted, before being sent to the local and regional markets. The buildings were cheaply constructed because they were always subject to storms and hurricanes as they were located at or near sea level.
The oyster houses were generally located at the foot Jackson and Washington Avenues, but occasionally someone would be in business at Martin Avenue. The Antonio Catchot family dominated the oyster business on Jackson Avenue until their site was sold to the Purity Seafood Company in 1945. Earl H. Fayard leased the site from Purity in 1956, and purchased it in 1962. The Fayard family has operated here for forty years as the Ocean Springs Seafood Market. Washington Avenue was the focal point of the Narcisse Seymour family. They processed seafood here from the 1880s until the late 1930s. Other operators on this site through the years were the Dolbears, Friars, and Van Courts.
Pecan and Citrus Culture
In addition to seafood, Ocean Springs at about the same time was developing orchards and nurseries. In the 1880s, several agricultural men, W.R. Stuart (1820-1894), Parker Earle (1832-1917), and Charles E. Pabst (1851-1920) among them, found their way to Ocean Springs and developed the pecan and citrus industry in the immediate area. Stuart came from New Orleans, Earle from southern Illinois, and Pabst from northern Germany. In the 20th Century, Charles Forkert (1854-1928), J.H. Behrens (1848-1917), Theo Bechtel (1863-1931), D.W. Halstead (1842-1918) and Gus R. Nelson (1886-1970) were well-known pecan and nurserymen. Additionally, H.D. Money (1869-1936), a native of Holmes County and the son of Senator Hernando D. Money (1839-1912), had hundreds of acres of satsuma oranges and grapefruit on the Rose Farm north of Fort Bayou. A series of severe freezes in 1917-1918 crippled the citrus industry in Jackson County.
North of Ocean Springs in the Latimer and Fort Bayou communities, sheep were raised for wool. The Ramsay, Krohn and Basques families were well known for their range animals. Ocean Springs was a market for wool buyers coming primarily from Mobile. Stock laws in the late 1920s severely curtailed wool production.
Education has been important to the people of Ocean Springs since it was a mere village in the 1850s. The Ocean Springs Gazette of March 24, 1855, has advertisements for two private institutions, the LaFontaine Hill Seminary and the Ocean Springs Academy. Mrs. E.A. Treat was the principal of the LaFontaine Hill Seminary. It was a girls’ school, which accepted boarders for $150 per annum. Primary English and music were the main subjects taught here. E.K. Washington was the master of the Ocean Springs Academy. His curriculum was broader as arithmetic, grammar, composition, natural philosophy, chemistry, astronomy, algebra, geometry, Latin, and Greek were taught. Instructions cost $2.50-$5.00 per month depending on the subject.
Public education for both races began in the 1870s. Little is known about early school houses, but it is believed that some instruction was given from private homes and churches, especially for black children.
One of the earliest private schools was held by Pauline Ryan Bellman (1815-1897) on Jackson Avenue. James Lynch (1852-1935), an Irish immigrant, held school in connection with a small store on the northwest corner of Porter and Jackson from about 1890 until he became Town Clerk in 1919. The earliest white public school building recalled was referred to as “the little red school house”. It was a two-story frame building located at the rear of the fire hall on the east side of Washington Avenue.
In 1899, a large, two-story, pine frame structure with a large pyramidal bell tower was erected on the southwest corner of Porter and Dewey. At the time, this public school building was believed to have been the most sizable wood framed edifice on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Professor Q.D. Sauls was the first principal.
By 1927, a larger school building was needed and the Porter Avenue school was demolished. The wood from the demolition was utilized to build the new black school on School Street. The land was donated by Gus R. Nelson (1886-1970), a Swedish immigrant. The new black school replaced the 1909 building on Vermont Avenue, now M.L. King, Jr., which was lead by Professor Franklin M. Nicholls (1878-1945). Nicholls and his wife, Fannie Birch (1894- -1982), moved to Biloxi in 1916, were they were involved in black public education on Nixon Street for many years. In 1959, the street and middle school at 340 Nichols Drive at Biloxi were named in honor and respect of Professor Nichols. A new masonry structure replaced the old wooden building on School Street in 1952. When a 1958 addition was completed, the facility was called the Elizabeth H. Keys High School. Mrs. Keys (1892-1976) was a long time teacher and principal of the institution. In 1980, the property became the Elizabeth H. Keys Vocational Tech School.
1927 Public School
The 1927 Ocean Springs High School was erected on Government Street. It remained the principal white school at Ocean Springs until the present building was dedicated at 406 Holcombe Boulevard in 1966. Miss Mary O’Keefe (1893-1980) who served as Superintendent of Public Schools at Ocean Springs from 1929 until 1945 is fondly remembered by her former students for her high academic standards. Integration of the public school system at Ocean Springs commenced in 1966 and was completed by 1968. Historically, the attitude of all the people of Ocean Springs has been characterized by tolerance, respect, and harmony through the ages. This applies to religious beliefs as well. All one has to do is visit the local public cemetery on Fort Bayou, now called Evergreen, and observe that Protestants and Catholics, Blacks and Whites are all interred in the same burial ground. In the 1994-1995 school term, the Ocean Springs School District was awarded a Level Five Certification. This is the highest academic achievement attainable and only one other Mississippi school district has reached this degree of academic competency.
Ocean Springs was incorporated on September 9, 1892. The population at this time was fifteen-hundred people and the city had an area of about 1800 acres (approximately 3 square miles). By 1996, the area of Ocean Springs had increased to 7168 acres (about 11 square miles) with a population exceeding fifteen thousand persons.
The land boom of the 1920s saw the Branigar Brothers of Chicago develop Gulf Hills north of Fort Bayou. This seven hundred-acre, resort-golf course-residential, complex commenced in 1926. C.W. Gormley and the Lyon-Hamill family of Chicago were responsible for residential estates at Belle Fontaine Beach and Fountainbleau respectively. The Hamills were also active in turpentine and naval stores and with D.J. Gay (1870-1949) operated small turpentine still on Government Street from 1931 until the early 1950s. This operation sustained the economy at Ocean Springs especially for Blacks, during the Depression years. Mr. Gay also donated land for the new High School on Government Street, which opened in September 1927. Jackson County’s “Million Dollar Highway”, a paved, two lane road and part of the “Old Spanish Trail”, was completed from Washington Avenue east to the Alabama State line in 1925. The War Memorial Bridge across the Bay of Biloxi dedicated in June 1930, connected Ocean Springs with Biloxi reducing the distance by seven miles. Highway 90 was re-routed at Ocean Springs in 1954.
In 1928, Peter Anderson (1901-1984) founded the Shearwater Pottery on the Bay of Biloxi. His brothers, Walter “Bob” Anderson (1903-1965) and James “Mac” Anderson, were an integral part of the artistic creativity, which allowed the pottery to grow to international acclaim. A museum to exhibit the works of Walter Anderson, a watercolorist, was opened at Ocean Springs in May 1991.
In 1939, Jackson County Beat Four Supervisor A.P. Moran (1897-1967) had the old Mill Dam Bayou dredged creating the Inner Harbor at Ocean Springs. Additional harbor was added in the western area, which was dredged during WW II to shelter a crash boat squadron operated by the Army Air Corps. Their function was to rescue downed pilots in the Gulf of Mexico that might crash on training flights. In the 1950s, Supervisor Moran extended the harbor north to Kensington and east to Pine Drive creating the Kensington harbor basin, the most northerly part of the Inner Harbor. The Inner Harbor Park was built in June 1983. World War II (1941-1945) initiated another economic surge at Ocean Springs.
World War II
The wartime economy on the Mississippi coast was supported by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation at Pascagoula and Keesler Field at Biloxi. Ocean Springs with its excellent location between the two industries, small town atmosphere, and oak and magnolia lined streets was a desirable place to reside. The town developed its “bed room community” label at this time, which remains today. During this era, many small developments to fulfill the paucity of housing in the area were completed. The Terry Courts on the front beach at Martin Avenue and the Heffner Courts (now Dale Cottages) on Porter were built. The former bandstand in Marshall Park was moved to the grounds of the Bayou Inn and converted to an “octagon rental house”. Also, a crash boat squadron operated by the Army Air Corps for rescuing downed pilots in the Gulf of Mexico was bivouacked at the Inner Harbor.
After the War, Ocean Springs began to develop several small, environmentally friendly industries. In 1947, the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory was founded. It is governed by The Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. Marine scientists associated with the facility conduct their investigations on subjects primarily in the north and central Gulf of Mexico. The E.R. Moore Company of Chicago located on Government Street in May 1950. It employed approximately seventy-five women to manufacture gym suits and caps and gowns. The plant operates today as American Identity Swingster making jackets.
Ferson Optics Company, now a major manufacturer of precision optical instruments, opened an operation here above the Lovelace Drugstore in 1951. The Government Street plant was dedicated in July 1953. Bausch & Lomb acquired the company in 1968.
The Ocean Springs Hospital was built in April 1968. Ground was broken for the thirty-four bed, $762,700 structure in February 1967. In 1977, additions and alterations added to the size of the plant. A six million dollar addition was completed in June 1979. It added fifty private rooms to the facility. In 1989 an outpatients services addition was integrated into the existing building. With continued need for medical services, the Ocean Springs Hospital built a new emergency room, ICU and MRI in 1995. Expansion continues today as a third floor addition is going up mid-1996.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
The Gulf Islands National Seashore was established in 1971. The National Park Service operates a visitors’center and campground at Ocean Springs as well as overseeing activities on the barrier islands of Petit Bois, Horn, and East and West Ship Island. The William M. Colmer visitors center located on the old Magnolia State Park grounds in east Ocean Springs was dedicated in April 1983 at the Davis Bayou Unit of the national seashore.
Alpha Optical was organized in 1975. It specialized in optical systems and subsystems for military, aerospace and commercial applications. Coors Ceramics of Golden, Colorado bought the Government Street operation in 1989. It ceased making precision optics in 1994. PFG Precision Optic was commenced in 1977. It is owned by Plummer Precision Optics of Pennsburg, Pennsylvania and Don and Janet Ferson Green of Ocean Springs. They are located on Bienville Boulevard in the old Coca-Cola plant.
The dockside casino industry boom at Biloxi of the 1990s has caused increased demand for lodging and housing. The Highway 603 (North Washington Avenue) corridor north of Fort Bayou, which connects Ocean Springs with Interstate-10 has seen rapid growth in motels, restaurants, and ancillary services. Ocean Springs will face increasing pressure from developers to build new housing developments, commercial buildings, and motel-hotel complexes within the limits of the city. With this exponential growth in mind, the citizens of Ocean Springs must remember that the ambiance of the town is based on its roots in Colonial history and the total environment. These include the 19th Century architecture, the Walter I. Anderson art legacy, green space, the abundance of live oak and magnolia trees, and the estuarine marshes. Only by protecting these assets will our heritage survive into the 21st Century intact.
For More Information
Ocean Springs resident Ray Bellande maintains an extensive online resource of historical archives and photographs on the web at http://www.oceanspringsarchives.com. Ray continues to update the written history of the City with current information and observations.
Links to some of the significant sections.
- French Colonial History
- 20th and 21st Century Chronology
- Early Black History of Ocean Springs
Ray L. Bellande, Cemeteries Near Ocean Springs, Jackson County, Mississippi, (Bellande: Ocean Springs, Mississippi-1992).
Ray L. Bellande, Ocean Springs Hotels and Tourists Homes, (Bellande: Ocean Springs, Mississippi-1994)
Khaled Bloom, The 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic in the Mississippi Valley, (LSU Press: Baton Rouge, Louisiana-1993).
Regina Hines Ellison, Ocean Springs, 1892, (Second Edition), (Lewis Printing Services: Pascagoula, Mississippi-1991).
Jay Higginbotham, Old Mobile Fort Louis de la Louisiane, 1702-1711, (The University of Alabama Press: Tuscaloosa, Alabama-1977).
Dr. Bobby N. Irby and Della McCaughan, Guide To The Marine Resources of Mississippi, (Fox Printing Company: Hattiesburg, Mississippi-1975).
Richebourg Gaillard McWiliams, Iberville’s Gulf Journals, (University of Alabama Press: University, Alabama-1981).
C.E. Schmidt, Ocean Springs French Beachhead, (Lewis Printing Services: Pascagoula-1972).
Charles L. Sullivan, The Mississippi Gulf Coast: Portrait of a People, (Windsor Publications, Inc.: Northridge, California-1985).
John D. Ware, George Gauld Surveyor and Cartographer of the Gulf Coast, (University Press of Florida: Gainesville-1982).
American State Papers (1823-1827), Volume 4, (Reprint: Southern Historical Press, Inc.-Greenville, South Carolina-1994), pp. 763-764.
Catholic Church Records Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi (1843-1900), Volume 1, (Diocese of Biloxi: Biloxi, Mississippi-1991).
The History of Jackson County, Mississippi, (Jackson County Genealogical Society: Pascagoula, Mississippi-1989).
Mississippi Archaeology, “Fort Maurepas and Vieux Biloxi: Search and Research”, Volume 30, No. 1, June 1995.
Mississippi Coast History and Genealogical Society, “A Short History of Saint Alphonsus Parish, Ocean Springs”, Volume 9, No. 4, November 1973, pp. 131-
The Daily Herald, “Miss Mary O’Keefe”, April 6, 1945, p. 3, c. 6.
The Daily Herald, “Bishops Will Officiate At Dedication St. Alphonsus Church In Ocean Springs”, September 22, 1961, p. 6.
The Daily Herald, “Ocean Springs Lutherans To Get New Church”, April 24, 1964, p. 24.
The Daily Herald, “Optical components firm came from hobby”, July 4, 1976.
The Daily Herald, “Ocean Springs acquires new optical manufacturing firm”, July 4, 1976.
The Gulf Coast Times, “Moore plant to begin operations May 8”, April 7, 1950, p. 1, cc. 6-7.
The Gulf Coast Times, “Formal opening Ferson Optical held Wednesday”, p. 1, c. 7.
The Ocean Springs News, “Ground Breaking Monday”, February 2, 1967, p. 1.
The Ocean Springs News, “Steeple Gleams at First Presbyterian” (reprint from the New March 19, 1956), September 13, 1967, p. 7.
The Ocean Springs Record, “Foundation Laid at St. Paul’s”, March 22, 1962, p. 1.
The Ocean Springs Record, “New Lutheran Church holds first service”, August 10, 1967, p. 9.
The Ocean Springs Record, “2000 Attend Dedication Ocean Springs Hospital”, April 11, 1968, p.1. The Ocean Springs Record, “Potpourri of Ocean Springs Events”, December 27, 1979, p. 2.
The Ocean Springs Record, “First Baptist of OS/The birth of a church”, September 9, 1982, p. 16.
The Ocean Springs Record, “Optics: Big Business in Ocean Springs”, September 1, 1983, p. 11.
The Ocean Springs Record, “Sous Les Chenes”, August 4, 1994, p. 22.
The Ocean Springs Record, “Sous Les Chenes”, October 20, 1994, p. 22.
The Ocean Springs Record, “Sous Les Chenes”, October 27, 1994, p. 22.
The Ocean Springs Record, “Sous Les Chenes”, February 16, 1995, p. 18.
The Ocean Springs Record, “Sous Les Chenes”, February 23, 1995, p. 22.
The Ocean Springs Record, “Sous Les Chenes”, September 7, 1995, p. 22.
The Ocean Springs Record, “Sous Les Chenes”, October 12, 1995.